A Saskatoon, Sask., couple became the first same-sex couple to be married in a Mennonite Church Canada congregation on Dec. 31.
Craig Friesen and Matt Wiens held a ceremony with family, friends and their church community at Osler (Sask.) Mennonite Church, where Friesen grew up and is a member. Co-pastors Anita Retzlaff and Patrick Preheim of the congregation the couple attends, Nutana Park Mennonite Church in Saskatoon, married the couple.
“It was one of the most worship-filled wedding experiences that I have ever participated in,” Retzlaff said. “The glory of God could not be missed.”
Retzlaff and Preheim acknowledge that some in the denomination believe their action was wrong. The Confession of Faith of MC Canada and Mennonite Church USA states marriage is between a man and a woman for life.
“The Confession states that it is a guide, not canon law. It is something to help us discern,” Retzlaff said. “So I feel that in the spirit of love the wedding is quite appropriate.”
Same-sex marriage has been legal nationwide in Canada since 2005.
Jerry Buhler, area church minister for Mennonite Church Saskatchewan, said there is no official word for MC Saskatchewan pastors regarding same-sex marriages beyond what is in the Confession of Faith.
Buhler said the credentialing body of MC Saskatchewan, the Pastoral Leadership Commission, prepared a statement in the fall in response to inquiries regarding Wiens’ and Friesen’s upcoming wedding.
“It was an appeal to the constituency that was read in a public meeting,” he said.
The statement describes MC Saskatchewan’s polity as congregational: “primary decisions on church programming and faithfulness in a specific context rest in the local congregation.”
In the statement, the commission urged that “congregations which come to the position of blessing same-sex marriages be given space.”
“It also calls for patience, time and understanding, and the practice of respect and kindness, recognizing that disagreement exists,” Buhler said.
He emphasized there has been no change in policy. Disciplinary action for Retzlaff and Preheim is not out of the question.
“There hasn’t been formal discussion about disciplinary action,” he said.
Preheim said he did not spend much time considering whether he might be disciplined.
“I focused more on serving the people that I’ve been called to serve,” he said.
“I would say that was the last of my concerns,” Retzlaff said.
Preheim and Retzlaff said they were open with the area church and their congregation about the wedding.
“The congregation gave us latitude to exercise our own judgment on whether to participate,” Preheim said.
Discerning, not voting
At least 15 years ago, Nutana Mennonite began discussion and study on sexual orientation.
In 2012, the church added a statement of welcome to all people regardless of factors that might lead to marginalization, including sexual orientation. Church members decided the welcome would extend to all parts of church life, including marriage.
They also decided they wouldn’t vote on the matter.
“And that was very, very important in allowing people in the congregation who have views across the spectrum to continue worshiping together under one roof,” Preheim said, noting someone always loses in a vote. “The congregation has found a way to allow people who disagree to continue to worship together.”
He said they alerted the Pastoral Leadership Commission about the decision and explained it could one day mean they would officiate a same-sex marriage.
Preheim noted that Mennonites in Canada and the U.S. are responding in a variety of ways to gay and lesbian people who want to be married in the church.
“I wish for us to be able to walk together, as this congregation does, to be church together with a diversity of opinions,” he said.
Retzlaff said she hoped that “in a time where society looks on the church as rule-bound and exclusive that this wedding would continue the conversation to open the doors and open our arms and be people of love and inclusion.”